Sunday, September 6, 2009


I love how Emersonian paths work. When you discover your right path, or "right" for that moment, something comes along to say "Yep, you got it." After that post last night, I get a link in my email to a NY Times series of articles to college students. And one of them is this one from Nancy Hopkins, below. I guess she figured out what I'll say to my kids about chaotic educational paths, based only on passion and callings and not about logic. ;)

Maybe she understands my educational passion for gut flora. :)


Published: September 5, 2009

Fall in love! Not with that attractive person sitting three rows in front of you in calculus class, but with an intellectual vision of the future you probably can’t even imagine at the moment. A millennium or so ago I entered Harvard wanting to major in math. But in my junior year I heard a biology lecture by James D. Watson, the scientist who co-discovered the double-helical structure of DNA, the molecule that genes are made of. By the end of that lecture I was a goner — in love with DNA. Until then I had not known that a new science, called molecular biology and based on DNA, had already begun to unravel the secret of life.

Listening to Dr. Watson’s lecture I could even imagine that molecular biologists might one day answer all the important questions I had about humans: How do you make a hand? Why do I look like my mother? How does a cell become cancerous? What is memory? I staggered breathlessly out of that classroom and started down the long unpredictable path to becoming a professor of molecular biology at M.I.T. What I have learned is that passion, along with curiosity, drives science. Passion is the mysterious force behind nearly every scientific breakthrough. Perhaps it’s because without it you might never be able to tolerate the huge amount of hard work and frustration that scientific discovery entails. But if you have it, you’re in luck. Today, 45 years after Watson’s lecture, new discoveries in biology still take my breath away.

For the next four years you will get to poke around the corridors of your college, listen to any lecture you choose, work in a lab. The field of science you fall in love with may be so new it doesn’t even have a name yet. You may be the person who constructs a new biological species, or figures out how to stop global warming, or aging. Maybe you’ll discover life on another planet. My advice to you is this: Don’t settle for anything less.

Nancy Hopkins, a professor of biology at M.I.T., has been teaching since 1973.

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